Post #873: I have your voter registration data.

Posted on October 21, 2020


Cue the villain music.

I know whether or not you are registered to vote, and when you registered.

I know your name and address.

I know how many people in your household are registered to vote.

I know which elections you voted in.

I know your party affiliation, or at least, I know which primaries you voted in.


I know all your phone numbers, courtesy of a cheap subscription service that provides that by name/address pair.

I know an email address for about 10% of you, based on a cheap off-the-shelf matching list, readily purchased by credit card.

I could know an email address for a lot more of you, if I were willing to shell out the money for a better list.

And I’m not kidding about any of that.

So:  Whom did I hack?  Whom did I bribe?  Can this possibly be legal?

Answers follow.

Briefly:  Nobody, nobody, and yes.

No hacks needed.  No bribes required.  No laws broken.

Here’s a list of every entity that has a right to have that information, in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  In particular, any candidate for office, any duly constituted and registered Virginia Political Action Committee (PAC), or anybody claiming to want to improve voter participation, may have copies of all of that voter registration and voting history data.

Here’s the full list:

  • Virginia and federal courts for jury selection purposes
  • Candidates for election or political party nomination
  • Political party committees or officials
  • Political action committees (PACs) which are currently registered with the ELECT or with the Federal Election Commission
  • Incumbent office holders
  • Non-profit organizations which promote voter participation and voter registration; and
  • Members of the public seeking to promote voter participation and registration by means of a communication or mailing without intimidation or pressure exerted on the recipient

Source:  Virginia Department of Elections, Client Services.

To be clear, there are stringent rules about what that information can be used for.  You have to agree to those restrictions in order to obtain that information.  You are subject to fines and/or imprisonment if you use the data for anything but the agreed-upon purpose, or disclose it to (e.g., give a copy to) someone not authorized to use it.  In theory, then, there’s no opportunity to do anything shady with that information.

So how did I have it?  (Note the past tense there).

Return to Post #272, regarding the 2019 Town of Vienna elections.  Some joker in the Town formed a Political Action Committee (PAC) to try to influence the election.  I was that joker.  I was supporting smaller, lower-impact development along Maple Avenue in Vienna VA.  Hence the name of this website.

What I was also trying to do, in part, was to shame the Town into voluntarily adopting Virginia’s campaign finance laws.  Because, as you can read in that post, absolutely no campaign finance laws apply to Town of Vienna elections.  Give whatever you want, to whomever you want, no reporting required, no questions asked.

Nobody believes me the first time I say that.  It is, nonetheless, true.  As documented in Post #272.

With hundreds of millions of dollars of development at stake along Maple Avenue, I thought that we might be prudent for Vienna to do what the Town of Herndon did, when in a similar situation, and voluntarily place the Town of Vienna under the Virginia Campaign Finance Disclosure Act.

But I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

By voluntarily forming that PAC, and spending above some trivial threshold, I was legally obligated to disclose all my funding sources (me), everyone I gave money to, and how much I gave.  Unlike anyone else in the elections.

Anyway, back to this post.  My point is that, just within the Virginia, there are hundreds of organizations that may legally obtain your voter registration and history data.  (In fact, I believe that the voter registration lists, in some form, must be made publicly available, so that anybody has the right to inspect it, if not obtain it, in some form.  By contrast, I believe that vote history data is privileged information,  can only legally be obtained by the entities listed above, and cannot legally be publicly disclosed in the Commonwealth of Virginia)

In any case, as a duly organized and legally constituted PAC under the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, I had access to all that information.  For voters registered to vote in Town of Vienna elections only.  And I was legally bound to use that information only as specified in the documents I signed requesting it.

For example, if I had gone on-line to shame someone publicly for not having voted, based on access to their voting history data, that would have been illegal.  Had anyone cared to press the point, I could have faced fines and/or imprisonment for doing that, had I been crazy enough (or stupid enough) to do that.

Which I wasn’t.  But, believe it not, others in the Town of Vienna were.  So, clearly, my PAC wasn’t the only one with that data.  I just paid a little closer attention to what was and wasn’t legal than some others did.

My only point is that it’s not at all hard to obtain that information, if you don’t care about breaking the law.  Given the number of entities that have it and use it, it’s fair to guess that anybody could get it, if they knew the right sources.  It doesn’t require hacking to get it.  It just requires knowing somebody with access to it, or some entity that is careless about storing their backups, or is careless about destroying old data files, and so on.  Just a little careless among the (likely) thousands of individuals in the Commonwealth of Virginia who have legal access to that information.

So, in today’s news, it looks like the Iranians or the Russians (or whoever) got a voter registration list, and managed to add emails to itAnd, somehow, that shows that they are omnipotent and omniscient hackers?  Pfft.  No.  They might be, but that’s not evidence of it.

It’s certainly not hard to get the information legally.  And when that’s the case, and when so many ad-hoc, lax organizations can get it, it’s a good guess that it’s not at all hard to get it illegally either.